Once Again, Stumptown


THE WRIGHT OPINION HAS NEVER HIDDEN its monomaniacally pro-Portland bias, and I don’t really expect that to change anytime soon.

So, then:

The entrance to the DoubleTree.

After doing the Emerald City Con in Seattle two weeks ago, this weekend reminded me that Stumptown is still a relatively cozy show, more or less by design. I’ve always taken the “Fest” rather than “Con” in the name to mean that the show is aimed at the on-the-ground attendee rather than the media world. Guests of the show come to mingle with the local scene and meet fans rather than make news. Panels focus on personality and craft over announcements, usually including sprawling Q&A sessions, and are balanced out with workshops and how-tos, such as this year’s “Instant Graphic Novel,” “Your Legal Rights: Protecting and Profiting From Your Work,” and “Art and the Small Business.” For members of the comics scene, it’s one long social gathering; for the general public, it’s a showcase for what comics are about and what the small press, as well as Northwest publishers like Fantagraphics, Oni Press, Top Shelf, and Dark Horse, have to offer.

Jeff Smith at his spotlight panel (stolen from the Stumptown 2009 Flikr pool).

On Saturday, after a fortifying breakfast, I arrived at the show around noon, in time to catch the beginning of the spotlight panel on Jeff Smith, the Fest’s Guest of Honor, who bookended my weekend. I only saw a few minutes then and a few more at the end, as I was called away, but what I saw included insightful moderation from the CBLDF‘s Charles Brownstein and enthusiastic questions from the many children in attendance.

What called me away was the portfolio review table, which I was in charge of this year. I was only at the table a few hours over the course of the weekend, as I was usually shooed away by the highly competent Christina Crow of Sequential Art Gallery, nominally my underling, but actually perfectly comfortable in command. The time I did spend at the table was eye-opening, watching a group of talented artists and editors like Steve Lieber, Jim Valentino, Joëlle Jones, Jamie Rich, Bob Schreck, Diana Schutz, and Shawna Gore dissect artwork and give career advice to aspiring comics professionals ranging from people who’d brought pages torn out of sketchbooks to a few who were ready to be hired by a publisher.

Diana Schutz and Jim Valentino at the portfolio review table.

As in previous years, the Fest was held at the Lloyd Center DoubleTree over two days that showcased the best of Spring in the city. It was almost a shame to be inside with weather like that. Almost. The floor was packed Saturday, probably slightly more so than last year with an estimated 1,200 attendees. There was some dropoff Sunday, though attendance surged in the afternoon, and artists and publishers I spoke to said sales were actually better Sunday than Saturday. It looks like people largely socialize and do recon on Saturday, but then spend on Sunday. In a hopeful (though anecdotal) sign in the current economy, everyone I talked to reported better sales this year than last.

Jonathan Case and Seafreak.

The floor was certainly alive the whole weekend. Every table seemed to be having a good time, and I was able to talk for awhile with every artist I bought books or got signatures from. There didn’t seem to be any books with the kind of buzz that some had last year, when a few more innovative minicomics were passed around the whole show, but there were definitely a lot of exciting books I hadn’t seen before and which got attention. A particular favorite seemed to be Jonathan Case‘s Seafreak, a beautiful mini about a monster of the deep with a poetic soul, which sold out of its first issue.

Erika Moen with her muse, Matt Nolan.

Some others that got lots of attention were Erika Moen and Dylan Meconis‘s twin webcomics-to-self-published-books, DAR: A Super Girly Top Secret Comic Diary and Bite Me!: A Vampire Farce. I’ve reviewed DAR before in minicomic form, and continue to recommend it, especially since the new printed version fixes the problems the minicomics had reproducing Moen’s digital tones. Bite Me is one I’ve heard about, but which I’ve not previously read, so I’m excited to get into it, despite its roughness around the edges—Meconis has come a long way since she began serializing it at 17(!). I was also thrilled and gratified to see Beanworld: Wahoolazuma! doing so well, so much so that Larry Marder had to restock at Dark Horse’s warehouse after Saturday (full disclosure: I am the assistant editor on the series).

Dylan Meconis, displaying her new book, Bite Me!

Larry Marder at the Beanworld table with Ivy McCloud.

The last panel I attended was “Editing For Comics,” a discussion between Jeff Parker, Diana Schutz, and Bob Schreck on what editors do, how to work with editors and, I should have predicted, how to become an editor. When that question was inevitably asked, Diana pointed me out in the audience and made me answer, as I’ve gotten into editorial much more recently than she or Bob. Put on the spot, I generally need a moment to think before I can explain such complex issues as my age or how to spell my name, so how I got into editorial was tough—I talked for a minute and likely said very little of substance. On the plus side, after the panel, people were suddenly eager to give me books for free.

Like last year, the only long line I had to wait in was for the scheduled signing by the Guest of Honor. Jeff Smith’s signings were well attended both days, and I was in line about an hour, just long enough to finish a book and look through some comics. Smith’s line went through the DoubleTree garage—which was a little strange, but better than last year, when Craig Thompson’s line effectively shut down Bridge City Comics’s table for an hour—and past the CBLDF’s table, a very smart move. I finally became a member, something I’ve meant to do for ages, and even got a Bone print out of it, which Smith signed along with my copies of Bone vol. 1, The Art of Bone, RASL, and Shazam, drawing a quick sketch in each.

As usual, the Saturday night party as Cosmic Monkey Comics was a blast, with the most efficient Trophy Awards yet, awards going to a variety of interesting books, and new sponsor Mactarnahan’s Brewing Co. bringing the goods. The Comic Art Battle was somewhat less exciting than previous years, though, with smaller teams meaning fewer personalities on display, and constant music drowning out Jeff Parker’s color commentary. Plus, anything would be a letdown after last year’s Ninja Turtle extravaganza courtesy of Corey Rey Lewis.

Jeff Parker and an ape host the Comic Art Battle at Cosmic Monkey Comics (stolen from the Stumptown 2009 Flikr pool).

Sunday night the Dead Dog Party was split between Backspace, a coffee shop, and the Pony Club, a gallery, though the Pony Club, with more free Mactarnahan’s and a gallery show featuring Graham Annable, Jesse Reklaw, Renee French, and others, was where everyone ended up. In a show as relatively small as Stumptown, everyone from the organizers to the exhibitors to the attendees seem to feel like they have a stake in the show’s success, so the mood in the gallery was triumphant. I mingled while looking at the art, and was able to talk to Larry Marder about the direction of the next few Beanworld books—while we’re working hard to get the last of the reprints out, I now know what happens through book four! It’s a doozy. When the tiny space became too hot, many moved onto The Boilerroom for karaoke, where I learned that Laura Hudson can really belt it out, while Leigh Walton does a pretty good Bowie.

Exhausted and needing to get up in the morning, I left to walk home. The Pony Club was on my way, and I was surprised to see people still there, nearly two hours after the Dead Dog Party was supposed to be over. By then it was mostly festival organizers and the big names like Craig Thompson and Jeff Smith. As I walked over to Smith, the people he’d been talking to left, so he ended up closing out my weekend as he began it. We chatted awhile about regional shows, Chris Ware, and Chicago blues, then I went home to crash.

As someone whose weekend was consumed by the show, Stumptown 2009 felt like another rousing success, though I’ve heard from a few people since that they didn’t know about many of the events surrounding the show and wished there’d been better publicity. This was a transitional year for the Fest, as some of the original organizers moved on, notably Indigo Kelleigh, who attended the show this year as a guest with a new book. Everyone involved worked really hard, but there’s a steep learning curve in putting together something of this size, and many details were finalized late in the game. Next year, and the coming years, will be the test as to whether the show can stand as an institution apart from the conditions of its founding, rather than being inextricably tied to the personalities involved in that founding. And, as this year’s director, Shannon Stewart, was enjoying horrifying people by saying Sunday night, there are only 51 weeks left to plan Stumptown 2010.

Additional memories:

Jonah Rose and Max Sato at the Dark Horse booth.

As usual, Periscope Studio was out in force. Pictured: Cat and Rich Ellis, Susan Tardif.

Top Shelf publisher Brett Warnock with his son Carter, who is invisible.

Sara Ryan speaks with a fan, while Steve Lieber pretends to see something in the distance.

Liz Conley, up from San Francisco, shows off one of her exquisite handmade books

And, of course, the haul:

Acquisitions not previously mentioned:

Funday Sunnies from Cloudscape; two minis from Natalie Nourigat, Bridging the Gap and A Room of One’s Own; Bird Hurdler anthology, the product of a team-up by three publishers; Lipstick & Malice #1, by Monica Gallagher; The Bridge Project, by a variety of Portland and San Francisco artists; a print of characters from The Wire drawn in the style of The Simpsons, by Steve Lieber; a smattering of Top Shelf new releases; The Martian Confederacy by Jason McNamara and Paige Braddock; Tick, a minicomic presented as a calendar, by Kenan Rubenstein; City of Roses, by Kip Manley; and Can’t Sleep, by Gregory Tozian.


One Response to “Once Again, Stumptown”

  1. Journalista - the news weblog of The Comics Journal » Blog Archive » April 21, 2009: Always late Says:

    […] [Scene] Stumptown Comics Fest Link: Brendan Wright […]

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